Martin Thomas in Solidarity Vol 3 No 48 wants to err on the side of liberty when it comes to girls wearing the veil in French schools. The issue of the veil in school is not just a French issue; one reason I want to raise it is because of the stark contrast between Britain and France on the issue.
In Britain it is accepted that parents own their children, we can hit them and we can exclude them from important parts of education. Cultural relativist ideology dominates education, and there is an expansion of reactionary state funded religious schools. In France the tradition of secular state education and compulsory syllabus for all is common ground. Hitting your kids is banned and you cannot withdraw your kids from any part of the syllabus. Yes, religious schools do exist but given the logic of the hijab ban they should be shut down; the left should campaign for that.
Given this contrast the focus on the wicked illiberal French system by the British left is a sign of its political decay.
Martin's argument is that we should err on the side of liberty with militant Muslim girls demanding the veil. He argues "hijab-wearing is not a flow-on from entrenched traditions in their migrant families and communities, but a (confused and, in objective social results reactionary) response, by French girls, to the world around them." (His emphasis)
It's a cheap trick; Martin focuses on a small minority of French girls promoted by the fundamentalist to push their case but ignores the general picture. He admits that fewer girls now wear the hijab in French schools than in 1999 (no doubt partly because of the long standing semi-ban imposed by many teachers.) He says there is a mass pro-hijab revolt by French Muslim girls in the last few years, but if this revolt is the main reason girls in French schools are wearing the hijab why hasn't hijab wearing increased?
The answer is of course that Martin's mass pro-hijab revolt by French Muslim girls is a weird fantasy used by him to disguise the real reason for most girls wearing the hijab in France, in Britain or anywhere else; the reactionary family and community pressure on girls to know their place, as a possession.
Martin in Solidarity 3/48 tries to argue that the ban on the hijab in French state schools will drive girls into religious schools. Firstly this is a dishonest argument against me because I propose that French (and British) religious schools should be shut down and that the logic of the hijab ban demands that. Secondly because it is the worst sort of "real world" lesser evilism. What else should we tolerate to keep Muslim girls in state education?
If we make sex education compulsory in Britain surely we will drive religious parents to send their kids to religious schools. The potential for bowing to reaction in the name of keeping kids with bigoted parents or even kids with reactionary ideas "on board" is endless. It's a formula for cultural relativism ruling the roost until the socialist revolution, as Martin would probably have it, negotiates an end to all religious schools.
Is Martin saying that the state cannot do anything to upset Muslims because they will withdraw their children from state schools?
Does he really think we must err on the side of liberty when it comes to Muslim families and the Muslim "community" telling girls they are worth less than boys?
Mark Sandell, Oxford